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Despite a rapidly changing demography, Jerusalem has retained a diverse and cosmopolitan character, particularly in the walled Old City with its Armenian, Christian, Jewish, and Muslim quarters: Arabs in traditional and modern attire; Christians, Western and Oriental, in their infinite variety of secular garb and monastic vestments; Jews in casual and Orthodox dress; and hosts of tourists combine in colourful, kaleidoscopic patterns.
To the east the city looks down on the Dead Sea and across the Jordan River to the arid mountains of eastern Jordan (the biblical mountains of Moab).Although Israel’s actions were repeatedly condemned by the UN and other bodies, Israel reaffirmed Jerusalem’s standing as its capital by promulgating a special law in 1980. For Jews throughout the world it is the focus of age-old yearnings, a living proof of ancient grandeur and independence and a centre of national renaissance; for Christians it is the scene of Jesus’ agony and triumph; for Muslims it is the goal of the Prophet Muhammad’s mystic night journey and the site of one of Islam’s most sacred shrines.The status of the city remained a central issue in the dispute between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs, who claim east Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state. For all three faiths it is a holy city, a centre of pilgrimage, and an object of devotion.The various red and brown Mediterranean soils, formed by the different types of limestone chalk covering the hills, support as many as 1,000 plant species.In the spring, masses of wildflowers proliferate on slopes and wastelands.Yet outside the walls Jerusalem is in every sense a modern city, with its network of streets and transportation, high-rise buildings, supermarkets, businesses, schools, restaurants, and coffeehouses.
The persistent mingling of Hebrew, Arabic, English, and other languages in the streets brings to mind the multicultural and political complexities of life in this revered city.The following year Israel declared the city its capital.During the Six-Day War of 1967, the Jewish state occupied the Jordanian sector and shortly thereafter expanded the city boundaries—thereby annexing some areas of the West Bank previously held by the Jordanians—and extended its jurisdiction over the unified city. (For more information on the conflict between Israel and the Arabs, Jerusalem plays a central role in the spiritual and emotional perspective of the three major monotheistic religions.Summer exposure to the sun’s rays in Jerusalem is intense because of the lack of clouds and the low humidity but also because the sun reaches such a high angle (80° above the horizon) at that season. Its elevation ensures the free mixing of surface air, and, apart from automobile exhaust, pollutant sources are few, for there is little heavy industry.Lying on the watershed between the relatively rainy Hare Yehuda (Hills of Judaea) and the dry Judaean desert, Jerusalem has both Mediterranean and Irano-Turanian vegetation.To the west it faces the coastal plain and the Mediterranean Sea, about 35 miles (60 km) away.